IRS delivers blow: Christian Coalition to restructure
Lou Chibbaro Jr., The Washington Blade
One of the Gay community's biggest and most powerful enemies has fallen against the ropes. Its income and political influence reportedly have been declining over the past two years. During the past several months, nearly all of its top staff members have either resigned or were demoted or fired. Its founder, anti-Gay televangelist Pat Robertson, just lost out on a multi-million dollar business deal with the Bank of Scotland because he made a disparaging remark about Gays and Scotland. Then, last week, news surfaced that the Internal Revenue Service had rejected its long-sought-after tax-exempt status, forcing the group to restructure itself. Some observers say the IRS action raises questions about the group's ability to distribute its influential voter guides to churches throughout the country – "guides" which critics say were thinly disguised campaign fliers to promote right-wing Republican candidates.
All of this has triggered speculation over the future effectiveness of the massive organization, the Christian Coalition, one of the nation's most high profile anti-Gay groups. Will its current problems force the group to its knees in the 2000 election? Or, like some bruised fighters, will the group rally against its political enemies – including Gays – and come back with more ferocity than before?
Political pundits appear to be divided over the answer to these questions. Republican Party strategists Charles Black and Richard N. Bond told the New York Times that the Christian Coalition would most likely remain an important and effective advocate for religious right issues in many states. But the two said the group would have to shed its image of "intolerance" if it wants to broaden its influence.
Others, including Gay advocacy groups, say the Christian Coalition has lost much of the political influence it had in the past and will continue on a downward spiral. The Log Cabin Republicans, a national Gay GOP group, points out that the Christian Coalition's new incarnation – as a political action committee, or PAC – will subject it to closer scrutiny by the Federal Election Commission. The role will also limit the amount of money that Robertson himself can donate to the Coalition for election-related activity. Under FEC rules, Robertson will not be able to donate more than $5,000 per year to the new PAC, which has been named the Christian Coalition International.
Robertson announced that the activities of the former Christian Coalition will now be assumed by the Christian Coalition of Texas, which already has an IRS tax-exempt status known as a 501c(4), the same status that the IRS rejected for the "old" Christian Coalition. Robertson said he has renamed the Texas group the Christian Coalition of America. He said that group will continue to distribute voter guides to churches.
"In order to survive and remain a viable entity under the law, all of these actions were necessary," said Kevin Ivers, director of public affairs for Log Cabin Republicans. "But the resignations, firings, and demotions of all its top talent, and the impact of these changes on its ability to raise money and campaign in churches make you wonder what could be left of the organization today, other than Pat Robertson sitting alone at the top."
"We shouldn't underestimate their ability to rebuild in some way," added Ivers, "but it's hard to imagine how."
"The Christian Coalition is on the ropes," said Kerry Lobel, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. "In the short term, it could be at its most dangerous. We need to look to a possible backlash from them. But in the long term, they will continue to lose strength while we gain strength."
NGLTF has joined forces in recent years with Log Cabin and the Human Rights Campaign, the largest of the Gay political groups, in opposing Christian Coalition activities related to legislation before Congress and state legislatures. The National Black Lesbian and Gay Leadership Forum has sought to counter the Christian Coalition's efforts to mobilize churches and church groups against Gay civil rights legislation. But up until the time the Christian Coalition's former executive director, Ralph Reed, resigned to become a campaign consultant two years ago, the Christian Coalition was believed to have thwarted efforts by Gay civil rights groups to counter its anti-Gay initiatives.
Its biggest claim to success, according to most political observers, was the role it played in 1994 in helping the Republicans win control over Congress. As a result, conservative, anti-Gay GOP lawmakers such as Newt Gingrich and Trent Lott landed key leadership roles in the House and Senate.
Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, a longtime critic of the Christian Coalition, said his group will closely monitor the new entities for tax law and FEC violations.